As someone obsessed with home cooking, I have to admit there’s often an absurd amount of leftovers in my fridge. The fear of anything going bad before I eat it makes me want to squeeze as many different types of food as possible into a lunchbox for the next day. As most of the container options available in the U.S. market don’t allow for storing hot and cold food separately, I turned to my roots for a solution: A two-tiered, colorful, and nutritionally balanced bento box that arranges dishes in multiple sections.
For me, packing bento isn’t some new trend, but something I grew up with—I have so many joyful memories of eating lunch at school and on special trips out of those bright plastic containers. So, when I came across the sleek Monbento at a design shop last year, I just simply couldn’t resist the temptation of adding it to my bento collection—and it's since become my favorite way to pack lunch.
What is a bento box?
The word “bento” is derived from the Chinese Southern Song dynasty slang word Biandang, which means "convenience." Since the 13th century Kamakura period, bento has become a national symbol of Japan. Through its multiple compartments, it emphasizes balanced nutrition and portability, making it perfect for schoolchildren and office employees.
Traditionally, a bento box comes with staple carbs (rice or noodles), meat or fish, and an assortment of cooked or pickled vegetables. “Bentos often reflect the Japanese belief that each meal should have five colors—a version of the food pyramid. It helps people remember to vary their food, especially since the most colorful foods are usually fruits and vegetables,” lifestyle blogger Mikiko Itoh told the New York Times.
Bento boxes typically come with dividers that help you organize your dishes in separate spaces, avoiding cross-contamination between soggy and dry foods. Monbento also sells individual sauce cups) that fit right in the box, making it easier to enjoy a fresh salad at work. The air-tight, stain-free sauce cups have silicone lining inside their screw-on cover to prevent spilling.
What does the Monbento feature?
The Monbento Original that I fell in love with has all my lunch needs covered. The double-layered, stackable design allows me to divide up the dishes I pack. For instance, if I pack one salad and one hot meal that needs to be reheated, I can easily separate the layers. Each layer has an internal lid with a silicone hinge that becomes airtight once wrapped with its elastic band. On the internal lid, there’s also a steam vent for safe reheating.
The two layers can hold up to a combined four cups of food, which is enough for me—and probably enough for the average adult. The shape of the Monbento Original is quite narrow, which makes it easy to both store in a crowded fridge and to remove it when I’m rushing to work.
The Nomad cutlery set fits right under the top lid, and its stainless steel material makes it as durable as the rest of the Monbento products. The cutlery set features a fork, a knife, and a spoon.
For parents with small children, Monbento also sells these extremely adorable kids lunchboxes, which are ideal for school lunches and picnic meals. All Monbento lunchboxes and their cutlery sets are dishwasher-, microwave-, and freezer-safe.
Even though Monbento is my favorite bento box by far, there's still room for improvement. Mine was originally white and blue in color and the white, unsealed exterior part stains so easily that dark-colored sauces have left their mark. Once the exterior is stained, it’s difficult to clean and it just doesn’t have the brand new, sleek look anymore.
What can I pack in a bento box?
Although rice and noodles are popular in bento boxes, you can pack anything from tacos to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My Monbento Original is narrow, so I need to cut sandwiches into smaller sizes to fit in the box on the rare occasion I bring them, but the Monbento Square comes in a more sandwich-friendly shape.
One thing I would never pack in the Monbento Original? Soup. However, the company recently launched an insulated soup container that might be worth a try if it's a staple of your diet.
Is the Monbento worth it?
In general, I find my Monbento offers me great convenience and peace of mind as I leave for work. I’ve tried other meal prep containers, and while they all had their own benefits and drawbacks, the Monbento is probably my favorite after all. I take public transit to work, which means I spend a fair amount of time standing and walking, so I try to avoid carrying something as heavy as glassware.
And ultimately, bringing homemade lunch that I actually want to eat saves me a ton of money. My partner and I live in a big city on the East coast, where a simple takeout meal costs at least $10. By packing our own lunches, we save hundreds of dollars each month. Plus, it only takes about ten extra minutes, in addition to cook time, to assemble a bento box for the two of us.
Yes, Monbento definitely costs more than your average glass or plastic container—but the convenience, organization, and scores of compliments my partner and I receive from our colleagues make it well worth the price.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.